Mitski’s Love Affair with Loneliness
Written and Photographed by: Erin Christe
The “indie” subset of the music world is majorly dominated by white cishet males, complaining about the fact that they can’t get a girl to sleep with them and about the “world not understanding them.” Aside from the fact that it’s headache-inducing to witness how many of these artists are copy-and-pasted cut-outs of one another, this reality is quite disheartening in the sense that it often pushes so many women, and especially women of color, out of their deserved time in the spotlight.
Mitski is a mega-powerhouse, a beacon of hope that in spite of the music industry and just about every other facet of the creative world attempting to push down womanly voices, who proves that you can be a woman, you can be angry, and you can be an artist that the world can look up to. Since her debut release, Lush, all the way to 2016’s Puberty 2, she has shown no sign of slowing down nor to giving in to the pressures of mainstream.
On Sunday, August 12th, Mitski began a small northeast headliner in Providence, RI at the Columbus Theatre, selling out the small room of no larger than a 200-person capacity. On this short run tour, leading up to the release of her newest LP, Be the Cowboy, she was joined by Boston powerhouse, Sidney Gish, in an intimate community theater-esque setting, the perfect stage upon which to bear all.
During this run, she had the opportunity to perform some of her new tracks in a live setting for the very first time, and Providence had the honor of being the first crowd to have that honor.
Released on August 17th , Be the Cowboy, is an eclectic collection, from melancholy to heart-warming, like her past releases. However this time around, there’s something distinctly more vulnerable.
One of the three singles she released prior to the record’s release day, “Nobody,” is heartbreaking at its core, but incredibly upbeat and light in execution. “Nobody wants me” she sings in an upbeat tune, accompanied by claps in couples. If you weren’t closely paying attention to the lyrics, you could easily get lost in the melody and wind up on the dance floor, throwing down to Mitski’s subtle cry for help.
On this album, there is a juxtaposition of somber lyrics with charismatic rhythms which can lead one to cathartically dance out one’s romantic frustrations. Be The Cowboy reads similarly to a diary, one that reveals Mitski’s deepest, juiciest, and also most devastating secrets. Like so many of us do, she wonders why she hasn’t found love yet, when it will come, and whether or not she is deserving. She ponders her own loneliness and unease like a therapist examining and delving deep into her own brain, and we, humble listeners, are spectators in her inner turmoil. This record is so utterly relatable, it’s scary. It’s as if she reached into my own lonely heart and turned my sadness into poetry of the sweetest sort.
This record is scattered with questions, whether internal or directed toward a conflicted lover who just doesn’t seem to have the answers. “Washing Machine Heart,” for example, despite being backed by an infectious, head-bobbing beat, relays a complicated love story. “Why not me?” she questions, clearly heartbroken and searching for closure in the aftermath of being torn up inside.
Another track, “Me and My Husband,” begins with Mitski letting out a heavy sigh, in response to which I can only clutch my heart and understand where she’s coming from. Her haunting concepts, leave a lasting taste in your mouth- one that’s not necessarily good nor bad, but just incredibly distinct. Her energy is absolutely alluring onstage and evident through recording as well, which makes it difficult to turn away from her obvious talent.
“A Pearl,” for example, is majorly self-aware, but unapologetic. Describing the confusing fizzling out of a flame that was once ablaze and the aftermath, she says “Sorry I don’t want your touch, it’s not that I don’t want you.” Backed by powerful brass and riffs worthy of a brain cell-killing hair flipping, this track is slightly separate from the majority, which long for romantic resolution, whereas this hopes for closure from what the rest desire. Existentialism, or the conflict with being alive and with uncovering your true purpose, is a mind-bender all on its own, and when combined with a toe-tapping melody to boot, you can’t help but feel a little dizzy.
Despite discussions of concepts that are sometimes “too close to home,” especially for hopeless romantics like myself, Be the Cowboy still has its high points, including “Blue Light,” where Mitski, giddy with a song in her heart, recalls being kissed and the feelings that followed. In a similar sense, despite the fact that so much of her discography is melancholy, her live presence is hot to the touch, the twinkle in her eye as she strides across stage brighter than the sun. Mitski is stunningly bold, to put it in a word. As she sings of heartbreak and longing, she thrashes about across the raised platform, banging on the floor boards and desperately reaching toward the sky. Her choreography, though possibly extreme for those unprepared to witness such, is truly art in its purest form: emotionally expressive and daring to the bone.
As she stomped, spun, twirled, and contorted her body, I couldn’t help but become mesmerized, inspecting each intricate, and sometimes brash, movement with something that I can only describe as amazement.
I left the Columbus Theatre that night with the inkling of a leftover tear in my eye and enough adrenaline to allow me to run all the way back to my tiny Connecticut suburb.
It would be an injustice not to mention her bravery: to lay all of her cards on the table for the entire world to see. She isn’t afraid when essentially, the deepest parts of her heart are being exposed at the expense of the consumer, and that speaks largely to her character. She brings her suffering into view and puts it under a magnifying glass without hesitation, and that’s something that’s noteworthy all on its own.
Described by The Spinoff as “indie’s loneliest cowboy”, Mitski’s raw emotion rings loud and clear, especially throughout this record, self-described as “her saddest yet.” As one who has spent countless nights listening to her entire discography and weeping, I can’t say I disagree. Be the Cowboy is a heartfelt letter to the lonely hearts club, and as sad as that may be, it’s also comforting to those of us with a similar membership.